Many small business owners – especially when they’re just getting started – make the mistake of working in a bubble. Head down, full focus and full speed ahead. We get it. After all, you’re just trying to get your business off the ground, your to-do list is long (and growing every day!), and you may even be working your regular day job at the same time.

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Startup Advisory Board

You may think your business is too small or too new to need a startup advisory board, but you’d be mistaken. If your board is populated by professionals with specific expertise regarding your company and your industry, a startup advisory board can have a very positive impact – at little to no cost to you.

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs get myopic – they only see what’s in front of them, what has to get done today, and they forget to step back and see the whole picture. Your startup advisors won’t have this problem and they can become your advocates and even network on your behalf. See the following expert advice on how to build a startup advisory board from the start.

Step 1: Conduct an Honest Assessment of Skills

If you don’t know what you have and don’t have, you can’t fill the gaps with the right advisors. If you know your goals, that’s a great start. Start by figuring out where the holes are and where you’ll need help achieving your goals. There is always a gap, or several gaps, somewhere in the plan and these are the expert advisors you’re looking to find.

Step 2: Consider What You Have to Offer

You might be asking yourself what you can offer your advisors in exchange for their expertise, and this is an important thing to consider. If you’re ultimately going to need to raise venture capital, your advisors may get some type of stock option. In a non-venture capital situation, it really depends on what your company can bear.

You might take your advisor for a good meal and hold your meeting at the restaurant; or you might take them to the golf course and discuss your business over a round of golf. Your company may be about a product or solution your advisor wants to get their hands on – offer them the first product off the line. Get creative with what you can offer and have fun with it. Ideally, you want advisors who want to give back – and there are many who do, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Remember that later on, you may be asked to perform the same role – you may even be able to co-advise with another startup entrepreneur and swap advisory duties.

Step 3: Conduct a Search for the Right Advisors

By now, you may be wondering where to find the right advisors and we want you to look in all the usual places:

  • At your chamber of commerce

  • At your local SCORE

  • In your business network

… but we also want you to think about the not-so-usual places where you might find the best advisors. Try talking about your business with your kid’s softball coach, for example, and see where it leads. Talk with your hair stylist – they know lots of people – and ask your lawyer to open up their network as well.

Be specific about who you are looking for and what types of skills you need. Generally, when you get a critical mass of two or three advisors on board, they have the connections you need to find the remaining advisors. No advisory board should be more than seven people (including you). An odd number helps when the decisions are split down the middle.

No Room for Yes People

Most experts recommend the following rule: never invite family or friends as advisors and always avoid the ‘yes’ people who are likely to put a rubber stamp of approval on everything you do instead of questioning things. There is simply no room for yes people on an advisory board.

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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